Three millennia after Tutankhamun was buried in southern Egypt and one hundred years after his tomb was found, Egyptologists are still debating who the chamber was constructed for and what, if anything, lay beyond its walls. The argument has become a worldwide hobby.
Nicholas Reeves, 66, a combative enthusiast who lives near Oxford, England, with an unnamed housecat, is at the heart of the commotion. In July 2015, Dr. Reeves, a former curator at the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, proposed the fascinating hypothesis that beneath the northern and western walls of Tutankhamun’s tomb, also known as King Tut, were secret chambers.
The modest burial chamber, created 3,300 years ago and known to researchers as KV62, was long believed to have been planned as a private tomb for Tutankhamun’s successor, Ay, until Tutankhamun died at the age of 19. Nefertiti, Tutankhamun’s stepmother and predecessor, was buried in a more elaborate tomb, according to Dr. Reeves’ theory. In addition, Dr. Reeves suggested that beyond the north wall was a tunnel that may lead to Nefertiti’s unknown funeral chambers and perhaps even to Nefertiti herself.
The Egyptian government permitted ground-penetrating radar scans that may locate and scan subsurface holes. At a press conference in Cairo in March 2016, the then-minister of antiquities of Egypt, Mamdouh Eldamaty, presented the early findings of radar scans that suggested the existence of two empty areas and organic or metallic items beyond the adorned north and west walls of the tomb.
Amid considerable excitement, he said that there was a “about 90 percent possibility” that something — “another room, another tomb” — lay beyond KV62.
Two years and two different radar scans later, however, a new antiquities minister announced that the tomb had neither blocked doors nor secret chambers. The final scan’s findings were not made available for independent review. National Geographic magazine withdrew financing for Dr. Reeves’s study in response to the news, and a notable Egyptologist said, “We should not seek hallucinations.”
Egypt’s former senior antiquities officer and author of “King Tutankhamun: The Treasures of the Tomb,” Zahi Hawass, said, “I fully disagree with this hypothesis. No ruler in ancient Egypt would have ever obstructed the tomb of another. This would utterly contradict their values. It’s not feasible! ”
Professor of Egyptian art and architecture at the University of California, Los Angeles, Kara Cooney, observed the perilous academic landscape. She said, “Nick’s work is evidence-based and well studied.” “However, few Egyptologists would state this publicly, since they all fear losing access to tombs and excavation concessions. Or they are just obnoxious.”
In spite of the setback, Dr. Reeves persevered. In “The Complete Tutankhamun: 100 Years of Discovery,” a newly updated version of his 1990 book that will be released in January, he used data from thermal imaging, laser-scanning, mold-growth mapping, and inscriptional research to support his hotly contested scholarship. The intriguing new evidence has strengthened his view that Tutankhamun was hastily buried in the entrance hall of Nefertiti’s tomb.
After Akhenaten came the obscure pharaoh Smenkhkare, whom Tutankhamun immediately followed. Dr. Reeves has long maintained that Smenkhkare and Nefertiti were the same person, and that Akhenaten’s queen merely changed her name, first to Neferneferuaten during a time of co-ruling with her husband, and then to Smenkhkare after his death, during a period of single, independent control. The burial of this unique female Pharaoh would pass to the boy-king.
During King Tut’s decade-long reign, he seems to have been preoccupied with restoring order after inheriting his father’s disarray. Shortly after his demise in 1323 B.C., a new dynasty scraped his tarnished reputation into dust.